G. R. Grove
Copyright Date: 2009
The amazon.com description is:
"Elidyr Mwynfawr, King of Aeron, was a weak, greedy fool, and like many another such fool, he died of his folly. But because he was a King, in his dying he cost many better men their lives as well, and this was the way of it: for I, Gwernin Kyuarwyd, was there, and saw much of it myself, and the tale that I tell you is true
The Ash Spear is the third book in the series, which starts with Storyteller and is followed by Flight of the Hawk. As such, the reader is thrown right into the action, with little introduction to the characters or the world. I haven't read either of the two previous books and didn't find this to be too much of a problem. The story stands alone, more or less, although there were plenty of references to past actions and events. Despite that, I really have to find the first two books and read them eventually.
G. R. Grove has set this series in the generation or so just after the time of King Arthur, and located it mostly in the Welsh and northern regions of the British Isles. However, from there the story is quite different from most of the Arthurian period stories I've read, which made for a refreshing change: Gwernin, who is both the main character and the viewpoint character is no warrior or leader, but instead is an apprentice bard with a healthy appreciation for the mystical (not to mention the practical).
Also, there is much more of a pagan presence throughout The Ash Spear than I've seen in some of the other stories of the period. However, it works, and I think, that fact is probably fairly historically accurate too, although I'm no expert on the period. Again, it is a refreshing change.
Oftentimes, the names in the story are a bit of a mouthful, and I don't think that a pronunciation guide/glossary for some of the terms used throughout the story would have gone amiss, but it's quite possible to get the gist of them from the context. Perhaps they were explained more fully in the earlier volumes?
At the same time, I found the language and phrasing used helped to set the stage for the period. Sometimes it's more archaic words, other times it's a phrasing where the words are somewhat out of order to the modern ear. G. R. Grove has also included several long selections of poetry, which makes sense, given that the main character is training to be a bard. There's even a section from Beowulf included later on in the book, although it's more scattered lines than an actual excerpt.
Gwernin (as the entire story is set from his viewpoint as he reminisces) is very descriptive about events and scenery during his reminiscing of the story, which all helps to set the stage. It's the details he remembered and added that really allowed me to be able to almost visualise the events and the scenery.
The one thing I found slightly annoying through the story was the repeated formula of "But that, O my children, is a story for another day." It's used to close off just about every chapter in the book, and I think also in other places as well. It's a minor point overall though.
Had I not received this book from the author through LibraryThing's Member Giveaway, I don't know that I would ever have heard about it. I'm really glad I did though.
As I said earlier, I really have to recommend this book, and I'm going to go hunting for the first two in the series.